SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (9-1) at BALTIMORE RAVENS (7-3)
Thanksgiving Day, 8:20 P.M. ET, NFL Network, Sirius (SF 92, Bal 86), Westwood One Radio
The NFL bills this game as the Battle of the Brothers Harbaugh, but it would be a showcase without that angle. Perennial contender Ravens entertain the hotshot 49ers led by the passing wizardry of...Alex Smith?
Ravens coach John Harbaugh's immediate NFL success was no surprise. He spent 10 years on Andy Reid's coaching staff before signing on to a strong team both on the field and in the front office. Jim Harbaugh's success is a shock. The younger Harbaugh reached the pro ranks with two strikes against him. He coached at the college level and he was a quarterback. Few have launched successful NFL coaching careers from there, especially when joining a weak franchise. Harbaugh's 49ers team won four games under Mike Singletary in 2010. The 'Niners can clinch the division title this weekend with a win and a loss by the Seattle Seahawks. Wow. Just wow.
The Harbaugh brothers got heavy exposure to coaching legend Bo Schembechler in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where father Jack was assistant coach for the Michigan Wolverines. Jim played quarterback for the Wolverines under Schembechler. Somewhere out there, Bo is smiling.
What To Watch
Both the 49ers and the Ravens are defensive powerhouses. Baltimore ranks fourth. San Francisco ranks eighth. Both units are particularly strong against the run. The 'Niners are the top ranked run defense. Baltimore is fifth. That could spell a bad day for rushers Frank Gore and Ray Rice. Perhaps this contest will be decided by which team gets the best game from its rusher.
Baltimore's Joe Flacco attempted 114 more passes than Alex Smith for 2,578 yards to-date. Smith has yet to break 2,000 yards for the season. Smith is the more accurate passer and he has 13 touchdown passes to Flacco's 12. TE Vernon Davis is Smith's favorite red zone target with five touchdowns in the bag. Michael Crabtree, the 'Niners leading pass receiver, does not rank in the top 40 NFL receivers.
Baltimore has the maddening habit of playing to its opponent's level, playing well against strong rivals and poorly against weak sisters. San Francisco is not a weak sister. Baltimore is favored by 3.
Who Will Win
Baltimore at home will have too much offense to handle, even for the 49ers' defense. Ravens.